This is a link to the pdf that is the first draft of storyboards for our Comm Lab film. **note** the idea has evolved since this was created.
Archive for October, 2010
OK. I admit, that name is misleading given that this chapter was focused more on touch than it was on the visual sense.
Academically, my training is in performance studies with an emphasis on semiotics. I’m someone who, theoretically, subscribes to a lot of the ideas of discursive theory. Especially the tenant that our understanding of the world is shaped by the truth that is shaped by our time, location, history, culture. (I’ll spare my ‘political’ rant for another post, or most likely even another class.) In short: Our thoughts, or at least the structures we use to create them, are constructed.
This has actually been one of the main threads through my artistic body of work.
And yet, I was still shocked when I read Hoffman’s claim,
“I want to claim that, at a minimum, you also construct all that you hear, smell, taste, and feel. In short, I want to claim that all your sensations and perceptions are your constructions.”
It had never occurred to me that this was possible. That our physical sensations are constructed as well. I was especially interested in the example of EC. As I was reading I thought “but touch is still responding to some stimuli which exists outside of us–even in a patients phantom hand.” What had me so intrigued by EC’s case was the fact that she could accurately feel those stimuli in both hands. Yet, her left hand literally could not recognize objects.
Of course, this is all new to me. And so really this just sparks more curiosity about neuroscience than specific thoughts or feelings I have in reaction to Hoffman’s work. One thing I have been wondering is how this might relate to Hofstadter’s chapter we read earlier in the semester. Is the ability to recognize objects, or sensations, based in the way Hofstadter talked about the way we make ‘strings’ in our consciousness to seemengly get above the 7 +-2 number?
Are those strings we make that are the backbone of complex thought what was damaged in EC? Or is it something more basic, or more foundational than that?
I am so fascinated by what sculpts our thoughts, and the powers behind what defines those structures.
I have been doing a lot of training in Zen meditation and the Zen idea of presence. I’ve found that work to be really useful when working with actors to get past the traditional limits of consciousness, and help them find ways to react to unexpected events in a way that becomes instinctual and personal.
But again, a part of why I wanted to come to ITP was to work more directly with viewers or audiences. (Or more accurately: users.)
Last Tuesday Linda Stone came into Applications to talk about breathing, and presented us with the challenge of creating non-invasive products that could improve the way users breath as they compute. (Being a theater person who has focused on breathing, I was very intruiged by her talk.) But I began wondering if instead I should think about constructing something that made users more aware of their bodies as a whole–or their surroundings. (Or ideally both.)
And that challenge, I think, is directly in the end of this chapter from Hoffman’s book. It is a challenge for designers to work with virtual touch. And, most importantly, to be responsible with our work in that area.
This is all a long way of saying:
As someone focused on how our understanding is constructed, and wants to build awareness in my users, I don’t have any real ideas after reading this essay. But I know what I want to work towards, what I want to pursue, and at least an area I want to focus on as I learn.
This week I went back and reread the Crawford chapaters about interactivity. I kept getting caught up on what, for him, is the second criteria. That the actors must “think” about what it “heard” before responding.
Because I’m so new to computing and writing code, I have been having a hard time figuring out exactly what that means. Or rather, how to tell if an ‘actor’ is thinking or not. So I decided to base it off of whether or not the ‘actors’ behavior changed based on what it heard, or if it was a straight forward pattern that did not vary regardless of the input it receives.
I looked at 3 different places that interactivity occurred–or seamed to occur. What I found was that surprisingly the place where interactivity didn’t actually seem to be happening (It didn’t seem to me as if it was ‘thinking’) was the one that seemed to bring people the most joy.
This was the first place I observed ‘users.’ For those who aren’t familiar with the Forever 21 Billboard it is a multi-story LED video display. Every couple of minutes a sequence starts where:
-A live feed comes up of ground level across the street, on 7th Ave.
-A model comes on screen and ‘interacts’ with the people in the live feed. First she snaps a ‘polaroid’ of the crowd on the street, which she waves in the air and then kisses before leaving the screen.
-It then goes back to a live feed. The same model comes out and ‘spray paints’ over the live feed.
-This cycles a few times before going back to being just a digital billboard for the store. After a few minutes, the whole cycle starts again.
What was interesting was watching how people behaved. When the digital billboard is up, nobody paid attention. Once the live feed started a few people started to look up. Many began to wave. When they saw the model bring out the camera, their waving and efforts became amplified.
After by the time the second part of the cycle started, a small crowd started to gather across the street from the billboard. And the crowd grew throughout the cycle. People were waving and snapping photographs throughout the rest of the cycle; just to disperse when it ended.
This display drew a lot of pleasure from everyone who stopped to watch. And many of them participated, as if they were interacting with the display. However, I think that this installation lacks the ‘thinking’ criteria of Crawfords definition of interactivity. I stayed through several cycles, and it repeated itself exactly. The camera always focused on the same spot of the sidewalk; it did not respond to users’s motions in any way.
Like the Norman articles point out, it definitely produced the positive affect. And because the art-design is so polished, it actually obscured the fact that no interactivity was actually present.
2. The Touchscreen inside of taxi cabs.
This week I met up with two friends, and because of the weather they both opted to take taxi cabs.
The first friend used the taxicab interface more than anybody else I have ever seen. First he decided to check the weather. Then he started flipping through the Zagat page. I thought this was going to be to learn about new restaurants or bars. But instead he decided to flip through the ‘outakes’ page, which was mostly corny jokes and typos. Throughout the whole cab ride, he also kept checking on the Map. Oddly enough he never looked out the window to see where we were; he would just pull up and zoom in on the map.
He used the touchscreen for a specific purpose, unlike how passerbys were using the Forever 21 Billboard. But, it only produced frustration. A part of that is definitely his personality. But every bit of information he received only gave him something to complain about.
My other friend is a lot more like me. And so the minute we got in the cab, the little safety video did its loop. And as soon as possible, she turned on the interface off.
This system did seem to do some ‘thinking’ in that its display changed based on the users’ touch. Moreover, the map function did change with accuracy as the cab drove. Interestingly, in these cases it did not seem producer nearly the same pleasure as the Forever 21 billboard. (Though I could argue the first friend did take some pleasure in finding things to gripe about.)
3. The automatic checkout stands at CVS.
The most interesting thing I found was that while shopping at the CVS on 8th St., it actually takes effort if you want to check out at a register operated by an employee. They spent so much energy urging us to use the automated checkouts.
(Having stood and watched a few cycles of customers, I noticed that the speed at the real register was almost 3:1. And that if the second employee had been at a register, instead of helping people at the automated checkout, things would have run a lot faster.)
At first I thought these automated systems were similar to ATM’s, where there was relatively little thinking . Then I noticed that about 2/3 of the customers all got frustrated and help-up at the same point. The sensor under the bads would notice weather or not the product just scanned had been placed in the bag.
This feature makes sense, if people are making large purchases. But most customers were buying one or two small items, and preferred not to take a bag. Most got incredibly frustrated when the machine told them they had to put their product in the bag area before they could continue. It even got to the point where about half of the customers who ran into this issue required assistance from the nearest employee.
As I watched the frustrated customers, I could not help but think of last week’s Norman article. The main issue seemed to be that their conceptual model did not fit how the machine actually worked.
(I don’t have any photos of this observation. Mainly because it was easy to snap quick pictures of the other two. But for this one I felt a little creepy snapping photos of strangers as they were buying things at a drug store. Maybe next time.)
The properties of a thing are effects on other ‘things’: if one removes other ‘things,’
then a thing has no properties, i.e. there is no thing without other things, i.e. there is no thing in itself.
— Frederick Nietzsche Will to Power.
I, Mark C. Taylor, am not writing this book. Yet the book is being written. It is as if I were the screen through which the words of others flow and on which they are displayed. Words, thoughts, ideas are never precisely my own; they are always borrowed rather than possessed. […] As boundaries become permeable, it is impossible to know when or where this book began or when and where it will end.
–Mark C. Taylor, The Moment of Complexity.
Mark Taylor is an old advisor of mine, and yet these words of his never rang so true to me as they do for this assignment. I, Andrew Lazarow, am not writing my opinion of intellectual property. This post will inevitably, like Lethem’s article, be others’ words and ideas flowing through me. I have only had one real issue with copyright; not nearly enough to form an opinion beyond what I have read and heard from others.
The obvious argument to be made is we live in a network culture. Things, as Nietzsche aptly observed, cannot exist in and of themselves. Their properties are relational. Take a glass vase, for example. Let’s get beyond the obvious fact that the glass came from sand, which had to be converted into glass. The key component of a vase is its ability to hold things such as water, or flowers. Take those away, and all we have is a glass object with a void in the center. But without anything to hold, does the empty glass object still matter as a vase?
Now let’s look at complexity and network theories about individuals. After all, we are just as reliant on relationships to define who we are. Our relationships and interactions through life constantly shape and redefine who we are. Interactions are also, arguably, the drive that moves ideas down the path of progress. This belief is the root of Hegel’s dialectic: Thesis, antithesis, synthesis.
(While I have many issues with Hegel’s system, his emphasis on the impact of exchanging ideas is something I can get behind.)
It is from this perspective that I have major issues with strict copyright legislation—especially when it comes to a strict interpretation of the fair use clause. Examples abound, as Lethem points out, from Shakespeare to Nabokov of artists borrowing from previous works to create pieces that now define our cannon of “high art.”
My favorite contemporary example is actually the fashion industry. Fashion does not fit under copyright protection. (It does fit under trademark protection though.) And this has done some very positive things for the industry. For one, as Stuart Weitzman admitted in an interview, it has pushed him to remain innovative and step up his game. This is not a solitary case; it has pushed the whole industry to stay inventive and continue pushing forward. And as Johanna Blakely points out, the fashion industry has other “Virtues of Copying:”
- “Democratization of fashion.”
- “Faster Establishment of Global Trends.”
- “Induced obsolescence.”
Blakely even made a wonderful graph pointing out the difference in Gross Sales between Low Intellectual Property (IP) industries, and high IP industries:
All of these points seem to make the cases for reducing strict copyright protection. Which, at this point in my career, I am generally in favor of. Especially if what we are talking about is a relaxed interpretation of the fair use clause.
My biggest worry about a general relaxation of copyright is a worry that it will create lack of rigor in praxis as well as thought amongst artists and designers. It is easy to root for Joy Garnett and against Susan Meiselas. However, I have to side with Meiselas when she makes points like: “Technology allows us to do many things, but that does not mean we must do them. Indeed, it seems to me that if history is working against context, then we must, as artists, work all the harder to reclaim that context.”
Thinking beyond Meiselas’s photograph, let us take the Grey Album as an example again. DJ Dangermouse did not expect this to be a phenomenon. I, for one, believe that he did not simply chose those two albums just because of their chromatic titles. For me, it is clear that he did take the context and history of the content into account when mixing the Beatles and Jay-Z together. Moreover, he did not simply layer one vocal track on top of an instrumentals track. His mix of “99 Problems” makes it almost difficult to tell that he is sampling “Helter Skelter.” DangerMouse’s mix of “Encore” inspired George Martin to reproduce “Glass Onion” for the Love album and show in Las Vegas. The Grey Album does walk a fine line. But most importantly, it shows a rigor of praxis (and in my opinion of thought).
Place that next to the bulk of other mash-ups. In my opinion there is not the same intellectual framework for doing an album of Jay-Z set to tracks by Radiohead. Moreover, very little work is done to the instrumental or vocal tracks in most mash-ups, beyond layering them together.
Music and mash-ups is the common example. But most artforms have seen a huge rise in appropriation recently. My largest issue with that recent rise is what Meisalas points out in her half of the Harper’s article. It seems to be an easy choice, and in many cases the least interesting choice. Sure, I like it when artists quote or reference The Great Gatsby, or Lil’ Wayne, or Andy Warhol. Sometimes its just cute and clever. Sometimes I feel like it is an artist’s way of not confronting who she or he is, or what she or he believes.
There are instances of appropriation that and grab me emotionally and intellectual. They range from the Wooster Group’s ’84 piece L.S.D. (..Just the High Points…), Kneehigh Theater’s current Brief Encounter, or DJ Green Lantern’s tracks that combine Martin Luther King Jr, Malcom X, 2Pac, and Joe Budden.
The examples that interest me, and have my full support, are the pieces where the new creators take the original context into account and highlight overlooked aspects, or thrust it into something new and unexpected.
Much of my academic work has been focused on semiotics: The functions of the sign. Thus far, it has been placing a burden on analyzing content. So it was refereshing to read McLuhan’s push to focus on the medium conveying a message. I agree with his assection that often times “’content’ of any medium blinds us to the characteristics of the medium.”
After all, this lead to what I think is McLuhan’s most astute observation is based upon an unpacking of literacy to find that “’rational’, of course, has for the West long meant ‘uniform and continuous and sequential. In other words, we have confused reason with literacy, and rationalism with a single technology.”
This is similar to Sasseur’s work in linguistics, which proved that it is impossible for us to think outside of the limits of language.
But ignoring content leads to an oversimplification of the problem. And I think that is something that—at least the early chapters of this study—lacks. Rather I think that this study should be folded into studies of the sign, to understand how the medium colors content.
Let us look at Roland Barthe’s depiction of the sign:
So for Barthes there are two levels of signifaction: Denotation and connotation. The deonation is the thing (a picture of a tree means tree.) That signifier points to a signified. However, each idea is influenced by our culture therefore they have connotations. The sign (combination of signifier and signified) cis the connotator. And that points to a signified (tree, for example, makes me think of environmentalism) which completes my understanding of the sign as a whole.
What McLuhan inspires is an admission that there is yet another aspect of signification that comes before the denotation: This is the medium. The medium used to convey an idea actually does define its denotation. (After all the word tree, is different from a photograph of a tree, which is different from a painting of a tree, which is different from 10 actors ‘embodying’ a tree.) This will define how the rest of the function of signification works. After all, as McLuhan points out, our minds to ‘read’ different mediums differently. Therefore the medium is the “sign” that defines the denontator in Barthes’ diagram.
My interest is always in unpacking and expanding how signification works. To help us think beyond McLuhan’s point of how the West defines ‘rational,’ and to show that other understandings are possible.
What I admire, and am thankful for, in McLuhan’s statement that “the medium is the message,” is that it allows me one more element to toy with in my work. And the medium I chose is a choice that I have control over. Especially if I understand the effects of each medium I work with.
A useful map here is his guide to understanding hot and cool media. I do take issue with his scale for this, though. He seems to confuse himself in this text, by acting as if a medium’s “hotness” is defined on one scale. What it seems to me that it is more like a graph:
One axis measuring a medium’s focus of heightening one sense versus appealing to all of them.
The other axis measuring a medium’s ability to interact with its user, or for the user to use her or his own imagination to fill in the details.
It is my experience that mediums which focus on one sense, force users to interact with their imaginations: Filling in what the other senses might sense. If I play only with vision, they imagine what a scene sounds like. If I only offer sounds, they imagine what it might look like. When looking at more recent interactive technologies: it seems as if mediums that focus on one sense are easier to make interactive. That is something users are more prone to be willing to change or play with. For example, there are a host of interactive drawing systems or sound systems. Yet, when it comes to something as “cold” as film or television users seem resistant to instituting their own changes.
Therefore I think a more accurate measure would actually be placing a given medium on that graph. And looking where it falls. Perhaps creating four quadrants, rather than a strict binary.
My first reaction to these readings was a need to redefine my notion of a “designer.” As a theatrical designer, a lot of these concerns are present; however, their level of importance is very different.
I am not used to creating designs for the ‘viewers’ to use. Which is something I came to ITP looking to change. As Vitto Acconci said in our first day of Applications, “I changed what I did because I wanted my audience to become users.”
I know that these two years will help me learn how to do that. And needless to say, I think that “The Psychology of Every Day Things” has already helped me define some criteria and methods.
I completely agree with Norman’s assertion that the need for warning signs and large manuals is symptomatic of design flaws. I often felt the same way while working in the theatre. I believed that if the program has to explain what the play is about—or in many cases even give context—then the play wasn’t doing its job.
I have spent a lot of time studying the ways to plant useful clues throughout a live experience. Yet, until reading these essays, I never thought about Visibility as a key component.
An extension of visibility, I think, is the notion of the conceptual model. And I am fascinated by this idea. It reminds me of a simple diagram used in management studies, to point out how easy miscommunication works:
What I think I meant –> What I think I said<—> what is actually said <—> what the listener hears —- > what the listener thinks she or he hears <—> what the listener thinks I meant.
As a semiotics lover, I will fight the temptation to go on too long about the signifier and the signified, other than to say this: Every detail speaks. (And every utterance has connotations.) Therefore, it is not enough to just include clues about how my designs work. I have to be aware of how a user might perceive those clues, and any actions I might ask her or him to perform. In other words: I have to think beyond the literal elements of my design and consider “what the listener thinks I meant” to understand the user’s conceptual model.
That is a push that I am afraid of, and welcome.
“Emotion and Design” points out another area I am afraid of. Norman mentions how when a product evokes the ‘positive affect,’ the user is more likely to overlook certain design flaws.
For most this is certainly useful knowledge. But that is precisely why it scares me. That is exactly where I could see going easy on myself. One of my biggest fears coming into ITP is that I will use ‘artistic design’ or beauty to cover up a lack of functional design.
Even with this next assignment, I am afraid that I will get so intricate with the ‘media’ our group creates that I will overlook the functionality of our controller. Or worse, that I will let another group member “do that part,” while I play to my strength.